30 January 2013

Nigeria: Dutch Court Indicts Shell Nigeria for Oil Spills

Photo: Dulue Mbachu/IRIN
Environmental damage from an oil spill in Kegbara-Dere in the Ogoni district of the Niger Delta.

Shell's parent company cannot be held liable for oil spills in the Niger Delta, says Dutch Court. However, Shell's subsidiary in Nigeria is partly liable for damages and will pay compensation to one farmer, the court ruled Wednesday.

Four Nigerian farmers had sued Shell for polluting and destroying their farmlands and rivers.

This was the first time in Dutch history that victims from Shell's host countries have pursued a civil liability claim in the country where Shell has its headquarters, the Netherlands.

In October 2012, four Nigerian villagers took Royal Dutch Shell to court in a landmark pollution case. The fishermen and farmers, together with Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, accused the Anglo-Dutch oil company of polluting land and waterways around their homes in the Niger Delta region.

According to director of the Dutch Friends of the Earth, Geert Ritsema, Shell should be held responsible for the pollution of the Niger Delta region. "The pipeline network of Shell in Nigeria is in a very poor state.

The company does not properly maintain its pipelines. This is the root course for around 250 spills per year. Together, the amount of oil that has been spilled by Shell over the years is twice as much as has been spilled in the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, " he earlier told reporters.

The three villages that were named in this case as being polluted are Goi, hit by a spill in 2004, Oruma, affected by a spill a year later, and Ikot Ada Udo, hit by various spills in 2007.

Shell Nigeria, otherwise called SPDC Ventures, argued it has cleaned up the spills to the satisfaction of the Nigerian authorities, and has no case to answer. It maintains saboteurs stealing oil from its pipelines should be held responsible for much of the environmental damage.

With around 31 million inhabitants, the Niger Delta is one of the world's most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems. It is an important source of food for the poor and rural population. Most residents make their livelihoods from fishing and depend on the polluted mangroves and creeks.

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